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Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Edward Wilson's Antarctic Notebooks

Statue of Peter Scott at WWT Barnes Wetlands Centre (picture credit: Michael Reeve)

On Thursday, I went to the launch of Edward Wilson’s Antarctic Notebooks. This book comprises a careful selection of pencil drawings and watercolours done by Dr Wilson, who accompanied Captain Scott as Chief of Scientific Staff, confidant and friend on both the Discovery and Terra Nova Expeditions to Antarctica. Fittingly, the launch was held at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) in Barnes, London as the WWT was founded by Sir Peter Scott, Captain Scott’s son.

Dr Edward Wilson’s great nephews, Dr David Wilson (ISCE Chairman) and Christopher Wilson explained that they wrote the book in the hope that the images will inspire a new generation of scientists and conservationists. David Wilson highlighted what an extraordinary seed Captain Scott planted when he wrote in a parting letter to his wife for her to ‘make the boy interested in natural history if you can; it is better than games’. How much easier if would have been to say, ‘make the boy join the navy’ or ‘send him to a top school’.

Christopher and David Wilson

The ramifications of this mindful parenting bequest are staggering. Peter Scott helped to found the world conservation movement, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), whose panda logo he designed. David Attenborough made no bones about our debt to Scott, Wilson and their colleagues.

David Attenborough. He recalled his first visit to Scott's Hut on Cape Evans, Antarctica: 'There was a musty smell of rope, tar and antiquity.' He added that, 'If I ever believed in personality after death, that was it.'

David Attenborough said that Peter Scott’s conservation efforts succeeded in a way that was possible for the first time. I imagine he meant that worldwide broadcasting was still new, and that ecological understanding was freshly mature enough to support large-scale conservation efforts. It seemed right for this sentiment to be expressed by David Attenborough of all people, given that his very successes have also coincided with landmarks in pioneering mass media, e.g. colour television.

This reminded me of something expressed by the artist Ben Coode-Adams, who is currently matching Captain Scott’s mileage on a daily basis until March 29th (he blogs with inimitable frankness here - I don't arrive at almost any of the same conclusions as he does, though): one of the bases of his interest in Captain Scott’s story is the notion of ‘being of your time’. It’s difficult to imagine that a broadcaster today can make as big a splash as David Attenborough now that we have hundreds of digital channels; and it’s doubtful any terrestrial explorer is going to capture the public's imagination as much as Captain Scott and his men have.


  1. "Peter Scott helped to found the world conservation movement, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), whose panda logo he designed."

    Yes, Sir Peter Scott did help to found the WWF, but because the WWF was culpably slow in updating its history page to confirm this (the first claim in the British press about this was made in June 2011. To my knowledge, the WWF didn't update their history page to confirm this for some time), I and presumably many others spent months believing that this was a complete lie. The fact that the WWF felt the need to include the Morges Manifesto with Sir Peter Scott's signature in the update of their history page says volumes. As for the assertion that he designed the panda logo, this is straight from Wikipedia (whose trustworthiness is not always certain), and nowhere does the WWF history page say that he designed the panda logo:


  2. Hi Kristoffer

    Thanks for the comments. I've known for about ten years that Sir Scott was involved in WWF's foundation, though I didn't know until I read your comment about the slowness in this being acknowledged on the website, etc. Was there any reason for this?

    Similarly, I learned at school that he'd designed the logo - it *would* be great to know definitively.

    All the best


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Ali is a 28 year old Londoner. He has trained at various things, including tennis playing, biochemistry and bespoke tailoring. He currently works in social housing for a local authority. In his free time, he marinades in Antarctic arcana, runs avidly (middle-distance) and bumbles through music practice. Ali volunteers for the International Scott Centenary Expedition 2012 charity, which aims to honour the legacy of Captain Robert Scott and his four men who died a hundred years ago. Ali is one of ten shortlisted candidates for the final place on the centenary expedition itself.